TAMPA — Having watched his offensive line get bullied through much of their first three preseason games, Bucs coach Lovie Smith decided to meet with one of the meanest men in the NFL on Monday to determine whether he is worth the fight.
Committing only to a visit with troubled free agent guard Richie Incognito, Smith said he believes in giving players a shot at redemption.
Incognito, the center of the bullying and hazing scandal involving several Dolphins linemen, was suspended by Miami for the final eight games of 2013. He arrived in Tampa on Monday afternoon. The Bucs haven't decided whether a workout will be involved and no contract negotiations have taken place.
"I would like to talk to him myself," Smith said Monday. "And if you know my history, I do believe in second chances. To me, nobody should have a death sentence. If you should, you're probably in jail. And then from there, what does it hurt to talk to someone? As we go forward, I'm going to give everyone the benefit of the doubt until we have information that tells us otherwise."
Tampa Bay is the first NFL team Incognito has visited since the league's probe, conducted by prominent attorney Ted Wells, determined that Incognito and two other Dolphins offensive linemen — John Jerry and former Gator Mike Pouncey — engaged in persistent harassment of tackle Jonathan Martin.
Martin left the team in October and was traded to the 49ers during the offseason.
Smith said he had not read the Wells report but was familiar with its content. With the Bucs apparently having a desperate need for guards, he is willing to explore the possibility of signing Incognito, 31, who has played in 102 games (all starts) over eight seasons with the Dolphins, Bills and Rams.
"I haven't been worried about the Wells report, I've been getting our football team ready," Smith said. "And then now, we have a little break right before the end, and we have a prospect available, now you start looking at everything about him. Until now, Richie Incognito was just a name, really. Now that we're bringing him in, we'll do a little more research.
"I'm coming in with an open mind."
The Bucs' starting guards are currently Oniel Cousins and Patrick Omameh.
Starting quarterback Josh McCown has been sacked four times in the preseason, fumbling three times (losing one) and throwing two interceptions. The Bucs have allowed 10 sacks overall; only three teams have had more.
"We're pleased with what we've been doing," Smith said. "But we look at all available guys. Period. What does it hurt to look at someone that's available? I think we owe it to our football team to do that. Before we bring in any player, everyone has to be on board with it.
"The last time I saw (Incognito) play, he was a pretty good football player. I mean, that's why we're looking at him."
Smith tells his team to embrace any player who walks into the locker room and it was apparent Monday that Incognito would be no different.
"As long as he can help the team, I'm all for it," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "I played against him a couple times, he's a good player, a Pro Bowl guy, a vet and I think he can help.
Asked about Incognito's behavior off the field with the Dolphins, McCoy said, "That's fine, but he would be coming to my team so some stuff would have to change. … There won't be any issues. If we were to sign him, he could come in and help and that would be it. If there were any issues, it would be dealt with accordingly between us and then we would move forward."
Defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who played against Incognito one game when he was with Miami and McDonald was with the Seahawks, said the Bucs could use the swagger and aggressiveness that Incognito brings to the offensive line.
"I think he's a hard-nosed player," McDonald said. "From watching film on him, he's pretty good with his sets, running blocking and things like that. I think he'll add the temperament and attitude we need on this team."
Smith gave other players second chances in his nine seasons as Bears coach. Chicago stuck by defensive tackle Tank Johnson after his arrest on gun charges in 2006 but cut him in 2007 after another arrest. The Bears re-signed linebacker Lance Briggs when he was charged with leaving the scene of a crime after crashing his Lamborghini. They acquired defensive back Ricky Manning, who was arrested on an assault complaint the day he signed his offer sheet. He also had a previous felony assault arrest but spent two years with Smith. Chicago also traded for receiver Brandon Marshall, who had had multiple legal issues.
After his suspension, Incognito had several rambling meltdowns on social media and entered rehab after smashing his Ferrari with a baseball bat. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had said that Incognito and the other Dolphins found to be bullying must be evaluated by medical professionals and receive treatment before playing; multiple reports on Monday said the league cleared Incognito to return.
"You think we're going to bring someone here that's going to hurt what we have in our locker room? No," Smith said. "But I need to see that. I can't go on hearsay. I have to see it for myself."